TV Shows That Stood Out

Plus Those That Let Us Down

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90210
1. '90210'
When this show originally ran on Fox in the '90s, it was seen as the video equivalent of junk food: fun going down, but the taste didn't linger on the palate. Turns out we're nostalgic for that sort of cotton candy. The program's moderate success is a lifeline for the CW.

Fringe
2. 'FRINGE'
What a concept: more TV show, fewer commercials. It's a concept we've seen on cable but rarely on broadcast -- at least not for an entire season. Fox's attempt to do this is winning plaudits from both viewers and media buyers, who were willing to pony up hefty premiums for the opportunity to run commercials in a less-crowded field.

The Shield
3. 'THE SHIELD'
This FX drama will never be seen by the audiences for "Adam 12" or "Starsky and Hutch," but it was embraced by a core group of viewers who were amazed by its desperate characters, gritty acts of violence and layered story lines. Its last season, which recently concluded, was compared to HBO's "The Sopranos," and advertisers including Anheuser-Busch lent support so select episodes could run with fewer ad breaks.

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4. 'THE MENTALIST'
This TV season has had few if any breakout hits. "The Mentalist" is perhaps the only one that could come near that category. Sure, it's yet another police procedural from CBS, a network fast becoming the Police Procedurals Channel, but when you come up with a show that reaches as many as 18 million people with a single episode, it's hard to quibble.

24: Redemption
5. '24: REDEMPTION'
Oh, Jack Bauer -- how we've missed you. The writers strike kept "24" off the air last season, and the series arguably hit a creative low point in its last outing. This two-hour prequel was one of the priciest programs on TV during the fall season and suggested that this Fox perennial is back on track for 2009.

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6. 'SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE'
Thanks to the election and Tina Fey's impression of former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, this often long-in-the-tooth late-night perennial has been more "Saturday Night Live" than "Saturday Night Dead" this season. The show has carried more than its weight with several half-hour prime-time specials, so its recent best-in-years ratings success seems well-deserved. Let's hope it stays in fighting trim now that the election is over.

30 Rock
7. '30 ROCK'
Like "Seinfeld" before it, this too-hip-for-the-room sitcom needs to find its audience -- or, more appropriately, needs to find a bigger audience. Those who tune in now thrill to Tracy Morgan's stream-of-consciousness tirades and Alec Baldwin's sharky NBC-executive maneuverings -- not to mention Tina Fey's commentary on what it's like to be alone in a world where all eyes are on you.

Lost
8. 'LOST'
ABC's enigmatic drama roared back to life just as the rest of the TV industry fell asleep, thanks to the writers strike. Where past seasons felt like the plot twisted and turned at whim, it now feels as if producers are determined to bring the program to a smart ending with all loose ends tied in a bow.

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9. 'THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW'
Forget Sarah Palin. The most unlikely breakout star of the fall election season was this Keith Olbermann protégé and Air America personality, who quickly developed a large following for her unapologetically liberal brand of political punditry. The MSNBC host even took a chunk out of her good ol' boy competitors, besting CNN's Larry King and Fox's "Hannity & Colmes" among 25- to 54-year-olds for several weeks.

Chelsea Lately
10. 'CHELSEA LATELY'
Who'da thunk it would take a foulmouthed blonde from Oxygen's "Girls Behaving Badly" to become the first successful female host in late-night talk since -- well, ever. Chelsea Handler routinely wins the most 18 to 34 female viewers in her time slot thanks to her candid celebrity smack talk and knack for witty, booze-fueled storytelling.

TV That Let Us Down

1. 'HEROES'
Producers lost their way, relying on confusing plots rather than highlighting the delightful assortment of superpowered characters that once drew audiences to this increasingly dreary hour.

2. CW'S SUNDAY NIGHT
The network let a third party program the evening, spinning it as a smart way for it to focus on buzzy shows for young women during the rest of the week, but no one had an appetite for shows that resembled syndicated programs from the '90s.

3. SOPHOMORE SHOWS
The networks just should have scrapped all those shows they launched in fall 2007 and shut down because of the writers strike. It's no wonder "Dirty Sexy Money," "Pushing Daisies," "Chuck" and even "Grey's Anatomy" spinoff "Private Practice" tanked when left off the air for nearly a year without promotion or even a summer revival.

4. 'DO NOT DISTURB'
Fox + raunchy sitcom + September = need we say more? Wouldn't it be cheaper to run old episodes of "Married ... With Children"?

5. 'MY OWN WORST ENEMY'
NBC had high hopes for this Christian Slater drama that contained elements of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but fans never got turned on by either character the actor played.

6. 'PROJECT RUNWAY'
A messy lawsuit between NBC Universal and the Weinstein Co. was no excuse for what was perhaps the most uninspired season to date, full of recycled ideas and tired catchphrases.

7. 'LIFE ON MARS'
We love this show's soundtrack, but the premise of a New York cop who finds himself transported back to the days of disco to solve a murder from the present is really hard to swallow.

8. 'LIPSTICK JUNGLE'
This "Sex and the City" knockoff has a hard time stitching together funny one-liners with the more serious issues facing the characters, who aren't as young or carefree as their cable counterparts.

9. 'SWINGTOWN'
This smartly plotted '70s drama filled with multilayered characters certainly won support from critics. Unfortunately, its threesomes and wife swaps got advocacy groups in a lather, prompting advertisers to place their support elsewhere.

10. 'I SURVIVED A JAPANESE GAME SHOW'
This program's survival shows just how far U.S. TV has fallen -- picking up on programs in which average citizens humiliate themselves for money or kicks.

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